Cruising was once considered a full-time endeavor that was expected to last for several years. It would include necessary side trips sailed across many miles of ocean for the single purpose of seeking safety during storm seasons. That's all changed now. A worldwide increase in secure marinas and boatyards at which to safely leave your boat allows cruisers more options. It's now possible to cruise part-time for four to seven months a year, and this allows sailors to make trips home to visit family and friends, to engage in meaningful work that they love, and to take breaks from the boat to travel inland.
Barbara Robertson sails Red Shoes, a Hallberg-Rassy 40, and she found a way to successfully combine her work and cruising with her husband. "We cruise six months a year in Europe," she says. "During the sailing off-season, I work as an anesthetist in the Southern Hemisphere, and on our way to and from the boat, we pass through Vancouver, Canada, twice a year in May and October and get to spend a few weeks seeing family and friends.
"To me, full-time cruising lacks routine and rootedness. The constant change makes me feel off balance. It's nice to get back to a daily routine, meet fellow professionals whom I'll see again, and take stock, all against the backdrop of anticipating a return to the boat. As a result, both the cruising and land-based sides of my life seem more fulfilling."
Your Support Network
It's rare to have all your family and friends support your decision to go cruising. Often, they simply can't relate to your dream, or they may feel abandoned by you, especially if you've always been there for them. It'll take time and reassurance before they understand that this is important to you.
"My daughter was extremely emotional about my leaving," says Linda Dawkins (www.svaquila.com), who sails Aquila, a Hylas 49. "We're very close friends and talked or saw each other daily. She said that I was her emotional rock and she was afraid she'd fall apart without me near. But at the same time, she wanted me to live my dream. It's been hard, but we talk regularly, and she's joined us on board."
Gathering a supportive network of those who are on a similar track will help you achieve your dreams. How to do it? Visit boat shows, attend seminars, join the Seven Seas Cruising Association, surf the web, subscribe to sailing magazines, chat with people who've cruised, join a sailing club.
Robin Owen (www.sailwhisper.com) sails on Whisper, a Hallberg-Rassy 42, and says that many of the books and magazines, especially the technical ones, scared her into thinking about all the things that can go wrong. "But in reality, now that I'm out here, it's not as scary as they made it seem. Sure, things do go wrong, and you need to know what to do, but when you're out here doing it and dealing with whatever comes up, it's far easier than sitting back in a chair worrying about it."
Our personal identity and sense of self-worth can be wrapped up in our work. If you've been a career woman, there's often a long adjustment to the life of a cruiser.
"I got lots of self-esteem from my job," says Owen. "So when I stopped working and went cruising, there was only Duncan, my partner of 15 years. Getting your self-esteem from the person you love doesn't necessarily work. It was a problem for me for the first year. Slowly, those feelings faded.
"Creating a website was an awesome project for me because it's a kind of journal. What I really enjoy is going back and reading about the cool stuff we've done. Now that our cruising kitty is running out, we'll look for work here in New Zealand. I'll probably choose to work in the same software-development field. But I don't want to get re-immersed in the endless rat race."
Many women combine work and cruising, either working while living aboard in a country to which they've sailed, as Owen plans, or continuing to cruise while working.
Sue Churchill of Moemoea, a 41-foot Lidgard, used the time at sea to achieve a life goal. "I'm a wildlife biologist specializing in mammal ecology, primarily bats, and I've been able to continue my surveys of bats in some of the places we've cruised," she says. "While in Costa Rica, I tried for several nights to capture a vampire bat as it came in to feed on the ear of a pig. No luck on the vampire bat, but two small bats would visit inside the boat each night to do a sweep around for food. During our Atlantic crossing, I wrote Australian Bats, a comprehensive identification guidebook."
Some women, such as Robertson, the anesthetist, balance part-time work with part-time cruising. "I use recruiting agencies to find me temporary jobs," she says. "I've chosen positions in New Zealand and Australia, as they're places we won't be visiting on the boat and it's relatively easy to obtain professional registration and work permits. One of the reasons I continue to work, besides not wanting to give up my career completely, is to be able to help our daughters financially while they're pursuing post-secondary education. When working as a temp, one of the conditions I negotiate is furnished accommodations and a car for the duration of my contract. That way, we don't need to accumulate many 'extras.'"
Home Sweet Home
For many women, moving to a sailboat from a home that's been a special place is a distressing concept. There are several options open to you. All are workable, depending on your finances.
One way to go is to sell your home to finance the boat purchase and the cruising. This is what Nancy Brown, who sails Askari, a Shearwater 49, did. "We don't have a house back home," she says. "We gave everything to our kids when we left, as they each have their own families. We had a big family meeting and divided up all our stuff. The kids wrote down who wanted what, then negotiated with each other. The kids are proud that we're out cruising. We feel free."
For Mavis Norman on Kaien, a Waterline 444, leasing her house while cruising worked best. "We have our house in West Vancouver rented," she says. "Some people find this a hassle, but we've been lucky with our tenants. It's been nice to know we have a home back there. I see objects at the places we stop while cruising and picture them placed in the house-though I must admit, I now think more about the boat's decor."
For Robertson, downsizing to a condominium that's easily rented and maintained is perfect. "The only real estate we own is a condo at a British Columbia ski resort, and it's presently in a rental pool," she says. "We sold everything else in order to satisfy the nonresident tax laws in Canada. Nonresidents don't pay income tax if they're out of the country for two years. We decided to keep the condo, thinking that we might want to live at Whistler once we return to Canada. But it's also a good investment."
My husband, John, and I know a number of cruisers who own a piece of land, some with a garage, studio, or trailer on it. They all have a long-term goal of building their dream homes on the pieces of property when they finish cruising.
Downsizing from house to boat is a process of simplification, and it can become addictive. If you're overwhelmed by your possessions and don't know how to deal with them, read Making Peace with the Things in Your Life by Cindy Glovinsky (2002, St. Martin's Press).
Catherine Taylor (svindigo.blogspot.com) sailed with John and me on an expedition in 1999 and has since been working toward realizing the cruising dream on board Indigo, a 42-foot Nauticat. In May 2006, she posted this update on her website: "We've been absorbed in the sorting and packing necessary to dismantle a land-based life. Tomorrow, all of these boxes and bundles go into storage, along with our furniture. A few favorite bits and pieces have been placed with friends and family for safekeeping. Many more of our possessions have been sold or given away. Now we'll be living entirely on Indigo, down to the essentials of life on board. Sometime this weekend, we'll untie the lines and ride the current, swollen by spring runoff, down toward the sea."
Carolyn Thomas, on Yolo, a Cape Dory 25D, is currently in the process of moving aboard, but her view of downsizing differs from Catherine's. "I don't care about material stuff too much, but I've still accumulated a lot of it just because I have the room," she says. "I've sold a lot of junk on eBay, and I'm always looking around our place for stuff to sell or give away. I don't want to go cruising with a lot of things rotting away in storage. We don't have kids or pets, and the condo is for sale, so the physical transition will be easy."
Staying in Touch
Modern communication, including e-mail through SSB or amateur radio, portable satellite telephones, and increasing WiFi access, has meant it's never been easier or less expensive to keep in touch or to create a website that allows family and friends to follow your adventures. If you're worried that it'll be difficult to stay in touch, consider this e-mail I received from Linda Dawkins after Aquila made a quick stop in St. Martin, in the French West Indies: "We're always in touch with our close circle of family and friends," she writes. "It's been so easy to visit Internet cafes, and many areas have free WiFi all the way out to our boat. Aboard, we monitor our e-mail and make phone calls using Skype. When we're under way, we have a satellite system called Skymate that enables us to send and receive e-mails without requiring an Internet connection. We always seem to be coordinating a future meeting with somebody somewhere, and we love that.
"I have an enormous support network and receive dozens of messages each month on my website with words of encouragement and praise. Many women tell me that I'm their role model, and the guys want to know how to meet a girl like me-one who wants to sail full-time!"
It is just such concerns as these that surface regularly during my cruising seminars for women. To talk about these questions with like-minded women offers on occasion for clarity and fresh perspective; you'll be better prepared for the decisions and actions you'll make about cruising. I've seen so many women step out of their old lives and into a rewarding new life of cruising-a life they originally viewed as nothing more than a black abyss. Be open. Ask questions. Think outside the box. There are no hard-and-fast cruising rules, so create your own. Only you can answer the question, "Is the cruising life right for me?"
Amanda Swan Neal and her husband, John, conduct hands-on sail-training expeditions aboard their HR 46. For more information, visit their website (www.mahina.com).